I shared a little room with my cousin at my sister’s place, aka home. Everything I had gone into a standalone wardrobe. Looking back at old pictures, I can’t believe the clutter I lived with, and I didn’t even register it as clutter. I thought I was surrounded by things I love.
Perception is a strange thing.
To be fair, I didn’t have a lot of things — I had a lot of things in a little space. But something happened in 2015 that made me pare down further.
It was a difficult year. My mind was in shambles. I spent most days dealing with torrents of self-destructive thoughts, and sometimes these thoughts turned into actions.
Depression had made itself comfortable in my brain.
That year, I spent most of my free time in bed or decluttering; removing clothes, books, keepsakes, knickknacks from my life.
Why I decluttered when I was depressed
If you’ve ever been afflicted with depression, you’ll know how it makes you feel like an empty shell, but really weighed down at the same time.
So, I decluttered.
I craved for the lightness decluttering gives me, even if for a moment.
In retrospect, it had a lot to do with control too. Since I couldn’t control my emotions and bring order to my mental landscape, I tried to do it through my physical environment.
My things were the one aspect of my life I could manipulate. I tried to exact control over every last item I had. To keep track of everything, I had to scale the numbers down to a manageable number. And I did. I knew where everything I had was. I knew what I didn’t have, and didn’t care.
What it taught me about sentimental items
Another thing depression does is make you feel bad emotions deeply, be it sadness, inadequacy or anxiety. Everything that hurt, hurt more. And yet, all those emotions are wrapped up by a thick layer of numbness too.
So depression insulated me from the impact of discarding sentimental objects. I was either too numb or too in pain psychologically to feel the loss from discarding the objects. Nothing really felt real besides the mental anguish.
The more I decluttered, the more I saw things for what they were. I began to understand that the values I attached to things are precisely that, values I bestow upon them based on what I think they mean.
Things are inherently value neutral.
Up till then, I kept cards with heartfelt messages my friends gave me over the years. I thought they represented the friendships — I had to keep them!
I didn’t keep them.
Thanks to a variety of reasons, I don’t remember how I felt when I decided to recycle the cards. Whatever the feeling was, it wasn’t because I don’t want those friends anymore.
On the contrary, I was, and still is, thankful for them. There’s simply no need to keep the cards to prove it. Even with the cards gone, I cherished the friendships as much as ever.
In fact, the sender of the cards were like lighthouses that offered anchoring points amidst the chaotic storms of my mind that year, stronger and more beautiful than ever.
Decluttering for the wrong reasons
I knew I was decluttering for the wrong reason. I wasn’t doing it to live intentionally and simply, as I was before. I was decluttering for much darker reasons.
As with every depressed person, I wanted to be freed from the stifling pressure on my psyche.
I wanted to shrink my footprint ever smaller, so it would look like I was barely here. I was hoping that if I died, family members would have an easier time cleaning up after me.
As bad as it sounds, I didn’t want to be “here” anymore.
Eventually, I donated most of my books, CDs, and got rid of most of my knickknacks. I gave the guitar to my nephew — who got more use out of it than I did. My Instagram hashtag declared #tillallmythingsfitinacart. I meant it too.
Ironically, doing it for the wrong reasons brought me to the same destination and benefits anyway.
How minimalism helped me in the throes of darkness
In return for my relentless minimizing, my side of the room was the neatest it had ever been. Even at my most depressed, my space remained ordered and pleasant.
I was a mess psychologically, but I didn’t have to worry about the physical mess. When you have lesser stuff, it’s a lot easier to keep it tidy. Hell, I didn’t even have to keep it tidy. My space stayed tidy.
Apart from a healthy environment, minimizing the hell out of my room gave me the ability to focus on myself. Without a bunch of stuff crowding my space, it almost felt as if my space could breathe.
My desk was clear, my drawers were organized. I always found what I needed to use, so there was no aggravation from physical objects.
In a time when my mental space was invaded and fogged up by darkness, every bit of clarity helped.
The best lessons of all
By the end of that year, I was so contented with minimalism, and so schooled by depression, I was done with stuff the way society saw it.
You see, after experiencing pain that profound and empty, it became close to impossible for me to feel excitement over physical things and things I used to love.
I no longer desired new bags, shoes, clothes, beautiful things and books unless I needed to replace something. There was also no desire to entertain the idea of painting my nails, dyeing my hair and doing elaborate makeup.
At the same time, I learned that relationships won’t be jinxed or destroyed when you get rid of sentimental items.
Even with half my things gone, I still had everything I need.
They were right, the most important things in life weren’t things at all.
The most important things in life are the people in our lives, space, the way we think, and our health — mental and physical both.
Inadvertently, I had torn down life as I knew it and built a new one on the foundations of minimalism.
When I finally emerged from that horrible and lengthy depressive episode, I walked right into a simpler, more intentional and focused life.
It was the best thing I could’ve done for myself, and I couldn’t have done it without minimalism.
Originally published at https://darkbluejournal.com.